On the eve of what was expected to be the most closely-watched defamation trial in a generation, the board of Fox Corporation last month reviewed a text message that Tucker Carlson, a prime-time star on Fox News, had sent to one of his producers in early 2021.
But in the most startling passage, Carlson asserted flatly that “jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight.”
After seeing the message, the board alerted Fox executives that it planned to retain a law firm to investigate Carlson’s behavior, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive discussions.
The text message, first reported Tuesday night by the New York Times, added to a cascading set of concerns about Carlson within Fox News that led the company to fire him last week, according to several people familiar with the internal deliberations around his departure from the network.
The Washington Post reported last week that network co-founder Rupert Murdoch had also grown concerned about Carlson’s increasingly far-right commentary — including his disparagement of U.S. support for Ukraine — and that executives had noted his harsh critique of Fox management in his private communications, including some sexist and vulgar language aimed at a female executive.
A Fox Corp. spokesperson declined to comment late Tuesday. A representative for Carlson did not respond to messages seeking comment.
While the text, acquired during the discovery process of Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation case against Fox, remains redacted from court exhibits, board members feared it could become public during the trial. Days later, Fox settled the case with Dominion for $787.5 million on April 18.
In his lengthy message sent Jan. 7, 2021, in the hours after a violent mob stormed the Capitol, Carlson went on: “I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it. Then somewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: this isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be. The Antifa creep is a human being. Much as I despise what he says and does, much as I’m sure I’d hate him personally if I knew him, I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering. I should be bothered by it. I should remember that somewhere somebody probably loves this kid, and would be crushed if he was killed. If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?”
The message came after an exchange in which Carlson referred to then-president Donald Trump as “a demonic force, a destroyer.”
Though Carlson was not one of the main Fox personalities promoting false conspiracy theories about Dominion’s role in the 2020 election, it was expected that he would be cross examined by Dominion lawyers during the first week of the trial. Executives worried how his private text messages, some of which had been released publicly in the months prior, might play in front of a jury.
Less than a week after Fox settled the case, Carlson was informed in a phone call from Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott that the network was “parting ways” with him.
For years, Carlson had courted the kind of controversy that would have gotten a lesser-known personality fired. He was the subject of repeated advertising boycotts, and he attacked immigrants for making the country “poorer” and “dirtier.” He called white supremacy “a hoax” and mocked efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, his chief writer resigned after he was revealed to have been posting racist and sexist rants on a covert online forum.